You may not be surprised to hear that I chose to spend my summer in Lyon not for its culture or nightlife, or for its beauty. I chose it for its food.
Lyon has a long and celebrated culinary history that ties in heavily with the city’s famed silk industry. The silk workers, or canuts, began to occupy the land at the top of the Croix Rousse hill in the 19th century, and have left an indelible stamp on the city, even though there is no silk made here in any meaningful way anymore.
Rather, the canuts came, ate, and shaped gastronomy in Lyon for the next two centuries. Tiny restaurants began popping up all over the city in the 18th and 19th century, serving local working men with tripe and andouillette sausage (made from tripe), as well as a host of other dishes made from cheaper cuts of meat.
These restaurants, usually run by women who had been let go as domestic servants, became incredibly popular and are known today as bouchons. These small, cosy restaurants are dotted around the city and still serve up the same traditional fare as they did in the last few centuries.
Many of the bouchon’s traditional dishes are a touch scary – I, for one, am not sure I’ve got it in me to eat tripe. One, however, is not scary at all, despite its name: cervelle de canut, or silkworker’s brain.
Cervelle de canut is made from a mixture of herbs and faisselles, a kind of fresh cheese that to me sits somewhere between yogurt and cottage cheese. I’m sure it is the kind of thing you could serve as an aperitif but I’ve had it twice now for dinner, sat at the table with a spoon, a baguette, a few bits of cucumber and a bowl of delicious herby cheese.
While you can buy it from the fromagerie or the local market, it’s incredibly easy to make, and it is with that in mind that I share with you the recipe I used.
Note: I used cow’s milk faisselles as I am in France and there’s literally an entire aisle of the supermarket dedicated to fromage blanc. When you inevitably can’t find faisselles in Auckland, you can just use good quality greek yogurt instead – it’s not exactly the same but it’s pretty dang close.
Cervelle de Canut
300g cow’s milk faisselles (or yogurt)
2 big tablespoons of soft goat’s cheese (it needs to be softer than feta – chèvre will be much more suitable)
1 big tablespoon of cream cheese or cottage cheese – just to make it even cheesier
Half a shallot, minced
1 tablespoon parsley
1 tablespoon chives (you can also use other soft frenchy herbs like tarragon or chervil)
2 tablespoons olive oil
splash red wine vinegar
splash white wine
Salt and pepper
This recipe needs no further explanation, really: just put everything in a bowl and stir it till it’s combined, and add more of anything you think it needs more of. You can add some minced garlic as well but I really hate raw garlic so I left it out. Chuck the bowl in the fridge and let it chill out for a couple of hours before you get stuck in – it really needs some time to meld together.
I would go with some fresh bread for an accompaniment, but it also went nicely with cucumber (and will probably be good with a bunch of other fresh vegetables). I paired it with a rosé from Provence the first time and a Picpoul de Pinet the second time – any light, fresh wine with a lot of acidity will work really well here.